One of The Beatles’ unstoppable classic songs, ‘Back in the U.S.S.R.’, has rock and roll flowing through its very veins but, then again, The White Album was when The Beatles finally got back to rocking. Speaking about the album back in 1968, Lennon said: “What we’re trying to do is rock ‘n roll, ‘with less of your philosorock,’ is what we’re saying to ourselves. And get on with rocking because rockers is what we really are.”
It’s hard to argue with that. The album saw The Beatles ditch the technicolour dream of Sgt. Pepper and instead strip it all back to basics. They put rock ‘n’ roll at the heart of things and leant heavily on some pivotal figures of the scene. ‘Back in the U.S.S.R.’ is marked out as one of those songs imbued with the very essence of rock. As well as being inspired by Chuck Berry, it also has a hint of The Beach Boys too, all of which you can hear in the isolated drums of the song. What’s more, it sees McCartney on the drums.
By the time The White Album landed, things within The Beatles had wildly changed. The group were no longer stuck to their instruments or their roles, meaning George Harrison was happy to be a songwriter and Paul McCartney would pick up the drum sticks to lay down some serious licks. On ‘Back in the U.S.S.R.’, Macca sits behind the kit and gives an almighty swing with all the rock power of those before him.
Usually, great artists are more than happy to be candid in their appreciation of the art that went before them. That can certainly be said of Paul McCartney when talking about The White Album song: “Chuck Berry once did a song called ‘Back In The USA,’ which is very American, very Chuck Berry,” said McCartney back in ’68.
He added that the song was “very sort of, uhh… you know, you’re serving in the army, and when I get back home I’m gonna kiss the ground. And you know— Can’t wait to get back to the States. And it’s a very American sort of thing, I’ve always thought. So this one is like about… In my mind it’s just about a spy who’s been in America a long long time, you know, and he’s picked up… And he’s very American. But he gets back to the USSR, you know, and he’s sort of saying, ‘Leave it till tomorrow, honey, to disconnect the phone,’ and all that. And ‘Come here honey,’ but with Russian women. It concerns the attributes of Russian women.”
The rock star credentials don’t end there either, McCartney also confessed in 1984: “I wrote that as a kind of Beach Boys parody. And ‘Back in the USA’ was a Chuck Berry song, so it kinda took off from there. I just liked the idea of Georgia girls and talking about places like the Ukraine as if they were California, you know?”
One of the more interesting notes on the track is the band members all switch up instruments. John Lennon plays six-string bass on the track while McCartney took up duties on the guitar in the space of George Harrison. However, that wasn’t the end of Macca’s instrumental journey, he also sat in on the drums for Ringo.
Speaking in 1986, McCartney remembered, “I’m sure it pissed Ringo off when he couldn’t quite get the drums to ‘Back In The U.S.S.R,’ and I sat in. It’s very weird to know that you can do a thing someone else is having trouble with.” But despite McCartney’s image as a tyrannical artistic director, he says he was very conscious of upsetting Ringo, especially. “If you go down and do it, just bluff right through it, you think, ‘What the hell, at least I’m helping.’ Then the paranoia comes in— ‘But I’m going to show him up!’ I was very sensitive to that.”
Still, McCartney did take on the role and laid down one of the drum samples on one of The Beatles biggest tracks. Listen below to Paul McCartney’s isolated drum track on The Beatles’ song ‘Back in the U.S.S.R.’.